The cobbled streets of Magdeburg glistened in the early morning light; their stones and mortar were misted with a thin dew; and misted, as well, with a general contempt for the righteous heritage of Christ on Earth, the holy Father, and all his Catholic Orders. Here, where Martin Luthor studied the Black Arts; here, where Luthor returned, and persuaded, by heresy, a King to renounce the authority of the Vatican. Like a crack in glass spreading slowly through the pane, the allied kingdoms were fractured along religious grounds; brothers and sisters turned upon one another, blow for blow, upheaving all the great work of the Renaissance, the Humanists, any hope for peace in the Holy Roman Empire.
Now, these citizens are neither Holy, nor Roman, nor aligned to any Empire, Renè Descartes fumed, as he walked through the market district, eyes darting between cramped shops and standing booths; apothecaries, fruit carts, mercery, baubles.
Two years had elapsed since the Catholic League regained control from the blasphemer Frederick V (the so-called Winter King), and from the Rosicrucian architects of his ascent; still, witchery pervaded the cities, its illness propagating through the body of Germany as did as the Black Death in its own time.
“White sands, gray sands,” came a merchant’s call to Renè, pegging him at once as a man of letters.
Renè flashed a polite smile, and declined with a wave of his hand. He came to a halt, instead, before a small table of old, raggedy books, at which sat a young woman in humble attire; her wares were molded at their edges, water damaged, pages torn; still, Renè was intrigued by some of the unusual titles stamped on their covers.
Brothers of the Rose, My Blood for the Order, The Realms that Await.
“Are you a solider?” the bookseller asked of Renè, her eyes wide as she gazed up at his stature, all dressed in black and leathers. He smiled at her.
“Not anymore, but pleased for to be mistaken,” he said. “Fighting with guns and swords, that’s for another sort.” Renè tapped a finger on one of the books. “The page, that’s where real action is happening. If I’m a solider, then you’re the general. Tell me, can you read these books you’re selling?”
“Not yet,” the bookseller replied, a hint of embarrassment on her face. “But I know what’s in them. What are you looking for?”
“I suppose you could call me an enlightened seeker,” Renè replied, picking up one of the tomes. He opened the cover, and turned the first leaf to find an elaborate frontispiece (a lion consuming a two-headed eagle) parallel a bold lettered title plate in Latin. “I see the symbols and the signs; are these….” Renè lowered his voice, speaking in a hush, “are these books from the Rosicrucian Brotherhood?”
“Not those,” the bookseller. “They’re mostly vanity tracts, aristocrats and such trying to get the attention of the Rosy Brothers. The bookshops can’t sell them, so I rag and bone when they get tossed out.”
“Do you know anything about where they might meet, those Rosy Brothers, here in Magdeburg?”
“Have you read the Fama? I think I’ve got one in French,” she said, quickly navigating the stacks that appeared, to Renè, to be in no particular order. The bookseller withdrew a slim volume, bound in a stained and faded cloth cover punched with bold letters in gilt: La Rapport dul Fraternité de la Croix-Rose.
“Yes, I’ve read it,” Renè answered, taking the Rapport in his gloved hands. “And in the original German, as well.”
“Then you’ll remember,” she explained, “you don’t find the Rosy Cross. They Rosy Cross will come to you, if it so suits them. It’s an invisible college, sir. They protect themselves with magic.”
Renè withdrew a silver coin from his purse, and placed it on the table.
“That’s too much,” the bookseller insisted, eyes bulging. “It’s just an old book.”
“The Brothers aren’t magic, and, they aren’t as invisible as they’d like to think,” Renè said. The bookseller’s wonder turned to a dutiful concern, and she frowned, glancing down at the silver coin between them.
“They’re just men that tell stories,” Renè continued, “and there’s one story in particular that I would very much like to hear. That’s why I’ve come here to find them, and I’m afraid that I don’t have time to write a tract.”
“Well, I’ve heard that Christian Rosencreuz himself sometimes goes for a drink at the Mercury Tavern,” the bookseller offered.
Renè shook his head.
“That’s just something they tell tourists and pilgrims,” Renè said. On a hunch, he focused his gaze, almost glaring at the young woman. “But, perhaps you can pass along to the Order my story.”
The young woman did not break from his piercing stare, but returned it, undaunted.
“I was born a very sickly child,” Renè explained, quietly, “and I suffered, lifelong, from in-various malady. It were as if my own body were my greatest foe. But then, some years ago, during my studies at Pontier, a wandering Alchemist passed through the town, diverted on his path from England to Prague. He did not give his name, but the locals called them the Agent Alchemique, and it was said he could cure any illness; that would take no reward for his services. My professors in Canon, they warned me not to see him, but I defied them – and, in the hour of the Sol Niger, I met him at the house where he lodged. He did it. He cured me. With a tincture, a letting of blood, and extractions of herbs dissolved under my tongue. He had a leather scroll, a compendium of knowledge unlike any I’d ever seen; no words, just glyphs and symbols, pictures of herbs.”
Renè allowed a pause, to see if the bookseller was willing to break. Her lips remained sealed. The coin remained in its place.
“After I discovered the Rosicrucian manifestos, I became certain that he was a member of their order. On my own accord, following the tales of those he’s healed, I’ve been led to Magdeburg. God, perhaps, has led me now to you. Although the Agent spoke in a mystic vogue, his work was not that of miracles, but mine own domain, that of nature’s science. I want to meet this man, to learn from him, and to extoll the virtues of the Rosy Cross.”
The bookseller glanced around the bustling market; although the setting couldn’t have been more public, no one seemed to be paying attention to her exchange with the Frenchman. Finally, she looked back to Renè, and tapped her finger on the table next to the coin.
“Another,” she said.
Renè scoffed; the bookseller crossed her arms; Renè relented. When the second coin was down, the bookseller picked up the short stack and hid them in a secret pocket.
“Book a room at Caucus Rock,” she told him. “If they’re willing to meet you, that’s where they’ll come. I’m not the first person you’ve asked, am I?”
Renè shook his head.
“Then they know you’re here,” she said.
Renè held up his copy of the Rapport, and nodded to the bookseller.
“A pleasure doing business with you, god bless,” he bid, and went on his way, holding a song in his heart that he hadn’t just been taken for a fool. When he had turned the corner, out of view, he opened up the book, tore out the title page, and dropped the remains of the book in the muddy street, to be trampled and mashed into oblivion. He folded the extracted paper to a quarter of its original size, and slipped it into his front pocket, to be added to his collection of dead texts.
WHO IS THE AGENT ALCHEMIQUE? For the rest of the tale, pick up the next American Eldritch Journal, The Alchemical Dream-Quest, available Winter, 2017.
About the Tale:
Earlier this year, my friend D. Edward Calhoun shared with me an idea for a comic book in which a secret operative conducts psycho-active missions of international intrigue; he called the story, “Chemical Agent.” He’s working on it right now.
Inspired by his outline, or, annoyed that I hadn’t thought of it first, I proposed a possible backstory to the Agent and his Agency; a long line of Chemical Agents, dating back to Elizabethan England and the Alchemist John Dee.
The concept was based on the pervasive hoax that John Dee was the ‘original’ 007; although Dee was never known to use those numbers as a call sign, he was an influential intelligencer for the emergent British Empire, with an affinity for gadgetry and chemical experiment.
I shared all of this with D. ‘Yeah, I mean, that’s cool I guess,’ came his enthusiastic reply, and I got right to work.
As I read more about John Dee, and his influence on Continental Politics, I stumbled on Terence McKenna’s lectures on alchemy, occultism, and the Rosicrucian experiment. Therein, McKenna proposed an idea for a short story in which the father of materialist philosophy, Renee Descartes, attempts to assassinate the last of the original Rosicrucians, Michael Maier, in 1620’s Magdeburg precipitating the 30 years war. As far as I know, McKenna never wrote that story before he left this world.
The Rosicrucian Order was very much inspired by Dee, although the extent to which he was involved in their formation is unknown. Dee spent several years in the Imperial courts of Bohemia, practicing alchemy, 20 years prior the birth of Rosicrucianism. They used Dee’s insignia in their texts (frontispiece to the Chymical Wedding), and the second Rosicrucian Manifesto (the Confessio) included large potions of Dee’s ‘Hieroglyphic Monad’ theorems.
With those diverse harmonies of inspiration, the Agent Alchemique was born.